Literacy and workplace communication: a South African technikon perspective

  • S Narsee M L Sultan Technikon


To acquire literacy is much more than to psychologically and mechanically dominate reading and writing techniques. Acquiring literacy does not involve memorising sentences, words or syllables, lifeless objects unconnected to an existential universe - but rather an attitude of creation and recreation, a self-transformation producing a stance of intervention in one's context. The words of Paulo Freire illuminate a view of literacy that is purposeful, contextual and transformative. It places the learner rather than the teacher or the text at the centre of the literacy process and it defines this process as more than the skills associated with reading and writing per se. Literacy is understood as a creative activity through which learners can begin to analyse and interpret their own lived experiences, make connections between those experiences and those of others. In this sense literacy is intimately connected to language itself, grounded in the historical and cultural background of the learner, and centred in the personal and social construction of meaning. The author offers a more culturally sensitive view of literacy practices as they vary from one context to another. One cannot pretend that cultural and ideological assumptions are neutral and universal. Educators should suspend judgement as to what constitutes literacy among their students, until they are able to understand what it means to the students themselves and from which social contexts reading and writing derive their meaning. Literacy must not be seen as simply a neutral skill, practiced in the same manner all over the world. The ideological model of Prinsloo and Breier (1996), recognise that educational and policy decisions have to be based on prior judgements regarding what type of literacy to impart to students in a culturally and linguistically diverse environment and why. It must be pointed out that unlike most countries in the world where English second language students are usually in the minority, in South Africa they form the large majority. It is in this context that this article has been written.

South African Journal of Higher Education Vol.15(3) 2001: 46-52

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eISSN: 1011-3487